Country Life’s Favourite Dogs: Norfolk terrier

Favourite dog: Norfolk terrier
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Norfolk terriers are among the smallest of the working breeds, standing just 25cm high at the withers. But don’t be fooled by their size – these little dogs think big, and have huge personalities.

Compact and completely fearless in the face of danger, it’s easy to see why Norfolks were highly prized for their ratting abilities, as well as their willingness to bolt foxes if required. And although today the vast majority of them lead quiet lives, their plucky spirit remains: the breed standard states that ‘honourable scars from fair wear and tear’ are acceptable.

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During the 19th century, East Anglian countrymen developed a new type of terrier to keep the rat population down by crossing dogs including Glen of Imaals, red Cairn terriers and Dandie Dinmonts. The game little animals that resulted were drafted in by Cambridge undergraduates to catch rats around the colleges – they became briefly known as ‘Cantab terriers’, then ‘Trumpington terriers’ after one of the city’s main thoroughfares. After several more decades of careful breeding, they were accepted onto the Kennel Club’s books in 1932

Norfolks are often confused with their close relatives Norwich terriers. In fact, the latter wasn’t recognised as a separate breed until the 1960s. But there’s an easy way to tell them apart: a Norfolk terrier’s ears will drop forward at the tip, but a Norwich terrier’s will prick up.

At home, the Norfolk terrier is very family-oriented – the breed standard praises its ‘lovable disposition’, and, for the most part, they adore children. Boisterous games that bring ratting instincts into play always go down well, and when they are young in particular anything which could have a hole dug into it, will. Precious gardeners beware!

They do need to be kept busy and well-exercised – left alone for too long, they can become diggers. Their weatherproof double coat (which is a magnet for burrs) will need to be combed weekly, and hand-stripped several times a year. If nature is allowed to take its course they can end up looking very shaggy!

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